Prize money and a free trip to Canada have attracted 10 of the world's best paddlers to Toronto for a series of 200-metre sprints on Saturday, with world and Olympic champion kayaker Adam van Koeverden of Oakville playing host.
Fresh from a few days relaxing in cottage country with several of his competitors -- who are also friends -- van Koeverden will headline the 42 Canadian national team athletes racing at the inaugural Mazda CanoeKayak Knockout 2007 at Marilyn Bell Park in Ontario Place.
"This is everybody's down time, nobody wants to go hard," chuckled van Koeverden as he drove down Hwy. 11 yesterday with Swedish paddler Anders Gustafsson, who finished second to van Koeverden at a couple of World Cups this year. "You just have to hope for the best."
It's been exactly one month since the 2007 world championships in Duisburg, Germany, at which van Koeverden won his first world title, in the men's kayak singles (K-1) 500-metre race. The weeks following the worlds typically are a down time of year, but Gustafsson and his peers couldn't refuse the invitation for a rare international race in Canada -- with prize money, which is even rarer.
"I had to take this opportunity, they're taking real good care of me and it's a lot of fun," said Gustafsson, a European Championship silver medallist. "I hope to see a little bit of Canada too. Canadians and Swedes, we seem to go along really well."
This weekend's race distance of 200 metres is fan-friendly because viewers can see practically the whole race, while the Olympic race distances of 500 and 1,000 metres are tougher to follow.
The 200-metre races will take the various boat classes about 30 to 40 seconds to finish and is short enough that athletes will just take off in a sprint and hang on. They'll be able to survive the effort even if their last few weeks have involved more a bit more beer drinking than training.
"The 200 doesn't leave a lot of room for strategy," said van Koeverden. "I know it will be hard, it's not going to be an easy race by any means, and Canada does have quite a few very fast sprinters."
Van Koeverden and Gustafsson will be the main threats in men's kayak singles, along with eleven-time world champion Ronald Rauhe from Germany, the 2007 world 1,000-metre champion Tim Barants of Great Britain and Rami Zur from the U.S., who placed fourth at the recent worlds.
In men's canoe singles, legendary paddlers Andreas Dittmer of Germany and Martin Doktor of Czech Republic will race Canadians Mark Oldershaw and brothers Attila and Tamas Buday.
Karen Furneaux and Emilie Fournel of Canada will race women's kayak singles against Timea Pasky of Hungary, Carrie Johnson of the U.S. and Conny Wassmuth from Germany.
There's also a national kayak fours competition open to crews from clubs across Canada, and a women's canoe singles competition, along with club mixed war canoes.
Along with presenting the event, Mazda Canada is kicking in prize money totalling $25,000, with the top amount of $2,800 going to the winners of the Olympic events -- men's and women's kayak singles, and men's canoe singles. Mazda has sponsored the Canadian National CanoeKayak team since 1995.
BATTLING THE RUNS
New for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Canadian Olympic Committee is offering Canadian athletes and team members a free, drinkable vaccine in the form of a raspberry-flavoured shot to protect against Travellers' Diarrhea, a health concern and serious performance issue caused by contaminated food and water.
The vaccine Dukoral, which came on the market a few years ago, costs about $75 for two doses, and also protects against cholera.
Pharmaceutical giant sanofi pasteur has donated the product to all 500 members of the Canadian Olympic Team.